Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Sidney Lumet

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Sidney Lumet
This black-hearted neo-noir shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. The surface noise is straight out of the botched heist playbook: power-tripping older brother Philip Seymour Hoffman manipulates weak younger sibling Ethan Hawke into robbing their parents’ jewellery store. It all goes wrong: mom winds up dead and father Albert Finney searches for the killers. But for all of its showy macho posturing, marginalised female characters and underutilised supporting players there’s a glimmer of truth to all of this that gives it a surprising amount of power.

At the centre of its rancid onion is the idea that the major characters think that their personal pain entitles them to renege on their responsibilities to other people. And this fatal flaw not only destroys them as people but it traps them in their own personal bubbles to the point where they can’t see the angles they assume they know by heart.

Kelly Masterson’s script deftly proves this by jumping from character to character and back and forth in time, revealing the lie of the characters’ hubris by contradicting their assumptions. Though she’s not quite so deft at weighting the relationships and sorting out moral culpability, her basic concepts and small gestures push the film further than you’d expect. The actors all do their best to occupy the gaps, filling the frame with wonderful, often mordantly hilarious, asides — even Marisa Tomei, whose performance here will probably be overshadowed by her copious nudity.

Though I fear the best thing about it are Michael Shannon’s two scenes as a sarcastic bully, there’s plenty here for people to like, making it well worth your time, and it’s Sidney Lumet’s best film in something like forever. (Mongrel Media)